Mason Crane will be tossed the ball for the first time in international cricket on Wednesday, with the England captain, Eoin Morgan, believing the challenge of facing AB de Villiers to be an ideal test of the leg-spinner’s temperament.
The 20-year-old has been fast-tracked into the team following an impressive winter overseas and is in line to make his debut on his home ground, Hampshire’s Ageas Bowl, in the first of the three-match Twenty20 series.
With a slew of senior players rested in between the promising but ultimately disappointing Champions Trophy campaign and next month’s Test series, Crane is one of five uncapped players Morgan said will be given a chance to showcase their talents, either in Southampton or in the games at Taunton on Friday and Cardiff two days later.
“He is still very young but we want to see what he is about,” Morgan said. “Leg-spin is such a difficult aspect to master and the earlier he gets into his apprenticeship the better. I think he has a good temperament from what we have seen. We will see when he comes up against De Villiers and the like.”
A confident character with a full wrist-spinner’s armoury, Crane shot to prominence in March when a spell playing grade cricket in Sydney saw him called up by New South Wales to become their first overseas cricketer in the Sheffield Shield since Imran Khan in 1984-85. Crane took five wickets on his debut against South Australia.
While already on England’s long-term radar, Crane’s groundbreaking stint under the tutelage of the former Australia leg-spinner Stuart MacGill caught the attention of Trevor Bayliss, who still has strong ties with his former state. A closer look then followed in the 50-over North v South series that month, the final match of which saw Crane complete a 3-0 clean sweep for the South with a match-changing spell of four for one in 10 balls.
There are already suggestions Crane could be considered for a Test debut against West Indies with a view to him translating his Australian experience to the Ashes tour in November. The management want to see him in action in the short-form first, while Adil Rashid, who was named in the ICC’s team of the Champions Trophy, plays red-ball cricket with Yorkshire.
Morgan liked what he saw in Crane’s first two days in the senior set-up -– England coaching staff were joined by the former captain, Adam Hollioake – and now hopes Hampshire continue to grant the leg-spinner opportunities domestically after overlooking him at the start of the season owing to the balance of their championship side.
“The worry is he gets neglected if we play five or six championship games in the opening weeks of the season,” said Morgan, echoing the disappointment expressed by James Whitaker over Crane’s early summer snub.
“You want him playing as much cricket as you can – a bit like Adil did at the start of his career.
“ He has all the tricks – a googly, a slider – and I wouldn’t say I’m picking all of them. Having Adil in the team is great. When he has tricks that deceive guys completely, you can do what you want with the field. If Mason can repeat that, it would be pretty awesome.”
While Morgan let slip that Crane will make his debut on Wednesday, the England captain was cagey about the remainder of the team. The suggestion is he will pick his strongest XI possible, with Jason Roy returning to open alongside Alex Hales after being dropped for the Champions Trophy semi-final defeat to Pakistan.
Jonny Bairstow, who could bat at No3, is down for the opening two matches before returning to Yorkshire. Mark Wood will play only the first. Their departures and other rotation should open opportunities, either on Friday and Sunday, for the uncapped Dawid Malan, Liam Livingstone, Tom Curran and Craig Overton.
According to the ICC rankings, England v South Africa in Twenty20 is third v sixth although it scarcely feels relevant, with Pakistan having made a mockery of their one-day ranking and both sides having stood down key players.
For South Africa, Faf du Plessis and Kagiso Rabada are being held back for Test duty – the former could even miss the opener at Lord’s on 6 July with his wife expected to give birth around that time. De Villiers at least adds a touch of stardust, not least with Ben Stokes and Joe Root among those missing for the home fans.
After De Villiers’ disappointing Champions Trophy that included the 33-year-old’s first ODI golden duck and ended with a run out – as well as the decision not to play in this summer’s Tests as he manages his workload – the three matches are a chance to demonstrate the form he claims to be feeling at present.
“It was a tough few days after we got knocked out of the Champions Trophy,” said De Villiers, whose side departed at the group stage after losing to India. “But I’ve always been a guy to see these things as an opportunity to improve and these matches do that.
“I don’t have to prove anything, I just want to play. I feel like a youngster starting my career, I’m full of energy – I now want to score some runs and captain my side to a couple of wins.”